Open Source software lacks good interface design

Michelle Levesque contemplates about the role of Interface Design in Open Source Software:

The lack of focus on user interface design causes users to prefer proprietary software’s more intuitive interface. Open Source software tends to lack the complete and accessible documentation that retains users. Developers focus on features in their software, rather than ensuring that they have a solid core. (…) If Open Source software wishes to become widely used and embraced by the general public, all issues will have to be overcome.

I can only second this position. I have evaluated many open source projects and I am amazed that the User Interface Design is seen as a followup problem — if at all.

The animosity of software developers about interface design issues is steady. The problem here is not that they devalue the issue in general, but that there are common misconceptions about the importance. There is usually also minimal or no knowledge about how to ensure usable software at all in many open source projects.






2 responses to “Open Source software lacks good interface design”

  1. Dave Cornell

    I have studied a lot of interaction design, and would love to contribute to open source projects. So far I haven’t found a way to do so! If only there were an easy way, say a Wiki, for this. Any suggestions on how I can contribute are welcome. Especially for Firefox, I use it all the time and it drives me nuts. It’s a real eye-opener to see my 80-year-old mom try and use Firefox.

    I highly recommend the following book, Alan Cooper is brilliant and ahead of his time:
    About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design

    If open source projects were to make interface design as much a priority as the coding itself, and the designers were to read this book and apply its principles, you would see usability skyrocket past all commercial products.

    You can reach me at Thanks.

  2. Oliver Wrede

    Hello Dave.

    I think the most simple way to find out about any possibilities for contribution to open source projects is to e-mail the authors (which you will find in the “About” screens or on the sites (e.g. the Mozilla Development Planning Mailing List may contain individuals that may help you if you send them personal e-mail; see

    Firefox is an Open Source project that is quite aware of design. And while you may think it is bad – it is far better than many other UIs in the OSS area.

    I am sure there are people working on Firefox that you may join. Interaction Design is not a precise science — therefore you may find people that try to establish other interaction patterns than those that you think would be more appropriate. The best thing is to join the discussion for a while and learn about the existing agenda and roadmap.


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